A Response to a Hit Piece on Landlords

Posted by Stephen Marshall on

On October 13, 2017, the Lexington Herald-Leader ran a front-page article that was nothing more than a hit piece against Lexington's private rental industry. The article's purpose, other than perpetuating a false narrative against landlords, was to promote a report released by the Lexington Fair Housing Council titled Locked Out: Foreclosure, Eviction and Housing Instability in Lexington, 2005-2016. You can read the report in its entirety here. You'll likely be appalled at the report's tone that landlords are the problem and at its suggestion that landlords profit from evictions and exploit the eviction process for personal gain.

In short, the report looks at the number of eviction judgments from 2005-2016 and concludes that over 43,000 tenants were forced to move during that time. As anyone in the rental industry knows, landlords rarely use eviction judgments to force tenants to move. Instead, those judgments are used to leverage payment of the rent, which should have been done long before an eviction case was even filed. From what I can tell, approximately 25% of tenants who have an eviction judgment entered against them are required to move. The others are allowed to stay, typically because they've paid the rent (or a portion of it). 

The report then uses the misleading numbers about people being forced to move to argue that the city needs to take several substantial and controversial steps to address the issue of housing instability. While several of the steps suggested by the report are reasonable, two in particular are not: (1) creating a law guaranteeing tenants an appointed attorney in eviction cases and (2) creating a law making Source of Income a protected class for housing discrimination purposes. In addition to being costly and unfair, the former proposal would create significant additional delay in the eviction process, which means additional lost rents for landlords. The latter proposal would require landlords to participate in the Section 8 Voucher Program if it received an application from a tenant with vouchers, assuming the tenant otherwise qualified. Neither proposal is acceptable to landlords, and neither would impact housing instability.

On behalf of the Greater Lexington Apartment Association, I am finalizing a response to the full report. I'll post a link to the response when it is finalized so that you can view it in full. I have also submitted a response to the Herald-Leader regarding their October 13 article, which is especially appropriate given that no private landlords were quoted in the article. The Herald's requirements limited my response to 650 words. Should the Herald publish my response, I'll link it as well. Until then, below is my response: 

Both the Lexington Fair Housing Council’s Report on evictions and the October 13, 2017, article on the report wildly miss the mark. The headline of the article highlights the Report’s most eye-catching claim, which is that over 43,000 evictions occurred in Lexington from 2005-2016. While that statement is technically true, it is completely misleading.  This claim leads one to believe that 3,400 tenants each year are forced to move out, which is far from the case. The article fails to note that the 43,000 “evictions” were times where a court issued an eviction judgment, an order directing the tenant to move within seven days.
What neither the article nor the report mentions is that such judgments rarely result in a tenant being forced to move. In fact, it appears that tenants who have an eviction judgment entered against them are forced to move out less than 25% of the time. The court records are replete with tenants who have had many eviction judgments entered against them by the same landlord month after month. Those tenants aren’t being forced to move. Instead, the landlord is being forced to file an eviction each month just to get the rent paid. Thus, while there may be over 300 “evictions” each month, less than 75 of those are required to move out and almost all of them have failed to pay their rent.
Moreover, while it’s likely true that landlords “win” roughly 65% of evictions, it is not true that tenants have “won only three cases”. Most of the 35% of cases in which a judgment is not entered are dismissed. A dismissal is a win for the tenant. In fact, most cases are dismissed because the tenant has finally paid the rent (or a portion of it) and the landlord has allowed him to stay on the property. In the vast majority of evictions, tenants are allowed to stay on the property because losing tenants is costly for landlords, who have to find new tenants and get the unit ready for new tenants, in addition to paying for the costs of the eviction itself. Thus, it is to be expected that landlords would “win” most eviction cases; most landlords won’t pay to file weak eviction cases.
The article states that the study found that “[m]ost evictions likely don’t go through the courts”. This is simply false. The Lexington study did not find that. That claim is based upon a 2009-2011 survey in Milwaukee, not a study in Lexington. Further, the Milwaukee study counted situations where a landlord paid a tenant to move out as an “eviction”. In Lexington, It is simply not true that tenants are being forced out in large numbers, whether via evictions or otherwise. 
Finally, while it’s true that few tenants are represented by lawyers, they have the same right to hire a lawyer that landlords do. In fact, many landlords do not use attorneys. Those landlords who use attorneys for evictions do so largely because, in many situations, state law requires them to do so. And those lawyers are not appointed, they are hired and paid for by the landlord. Any landlord who has had to file an eviction month after month against the same tenant just to leverage payment of the rent resents the report’s suggestion that landlords “profit” from evictions.
There surely are landlords who threaten eviction when it is not legally allowed, just as there are tenants who abuse the eviction process by filing fruitless appeals that allow them to remain in rental housing month after month without paying the rent. Both situations are rare, which is why the true statistics on evictions show that relatively few tenants are being “forced” to move out. Landlords need tenants to make their business work. Forcing tenants out is not a means to that end. We invite you to view our full response to the report at greaterlaa.com.

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